Thousands of tamariki offered free tickets to NRL all-star game

Thousands of Rotorua tamariki will be given the opportunity to attend the upcoming NRL All-Stars: Māori v Indigenous games next month – an opportunity they may not have otherwise had.

By Laura Smith, Local Democracy Reporter

Kotahi +1 is a Rotorua Lakes Council initiative that last ran in 2019 as a trial. It will allow 3503 lower decile pupils and their whānau to attend the games on February 11 at Rotorua International Stadium.

Tickets for tamariki were sponsored by 25 local iwis, trusts and businesses and will be given to pupils at 20 lower decile schools.

Of the 3503 people going as part of the programme, there are 2849 tamariki, 420 school staff and 234 whānau.

Tamariki classes were selected from kura kaupapa and rumaki units within mainstream primary schools and/or from decile 1 and 2 schools.

Ngongotaha Primary School was among those chosen, and principal Craig McFadyen said the school was very fortunate to have gotten some tickets to give pupils, and the city was lucky to be hosting the event.

He said they would be surprising the children with the news when they went back to school on January 31.

Teams for the games were announced yesterday, and Big Brothers Big Sisters Rotorua, school-based mentor co-ordinator Melissa Gordon, said the tamariki could see the players as aspirational “and think, ‘oh, that could be me one day'”.

A lot of the children in the programs would not have had the opportunity to go to a live game, and the fact it was such a high-profile game was extra exciting, she said.

“It’s cool to see something on the international stage highlighted and hosted here.”

The children had not been told yet, and so who would be able to go would not be worked out until the week of the game, she said. Children would either go with a mentor or caregiver.

There were about 70 tamariki in its community-based and school-based programmes.

Rotoiti 15 trust was among the sponsors of the event, and chairman Arapeta Tahana said it was supporting about 200 tamariki from both Te Wharekura o Ngāti Rongomai and Whangamarino Primary School to go.

He said it made sense to dig into its pockets given the game featured indigenous teams, which he said promoted pride in culture.

“We thought it was a natural fit.”

The trust had spent $5850 on the tickets, and Tahana gave a “big ups” to the other sponsors.

“We thought it was a great opportunity to support children and see the potential of what their futures can be.”

It is the first time the Indigenous All-Stars games have been held in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and he said it was fitting the event would be held in Rotorua.

“We are the right town in New Zealand to promote indigenous encounters.”

Rotorua-born Jared Waerea-Hargreaves will play in the first ever NRL Harvey Norman All Stars in New Zealand in February, in Rotorua.

There will be three games on February 11, including both men’s and women’s teams, as well as a range of entertainment celebrating indigenous cultures.

Rotorua Lakes Council community wellbeing deputy chief executive Anaru Pewhairangi, in a media statement, said it was important to provide these opportunities to tamariki.

“Attending these events that showcase Māori playing on the international stage offers our local youth inspiration and reminds them that they too can strive for greatness.”

He said the council was grateful for the sponsors.

In response to questions from Local Democracy Reporting, he said there was no cost to the council, but it coordinated the program between the schools and sponsors.

The total contribution from sponsors was $62,345.

In 2019, 3200 tamariki and whānau attend the Māori All Blacks vs Fiji game.

“Initially, the concept for the program was to get sponsors to purchase tickets for their staff and match that with tickets for tamariki, ie 1+1; however, as it evolved, sponsors preferred to select school classes; however, the original name has remained.”

He said it worked with the schools and sponsors to work out final ticket amounts.

NRL Harvey Norman All-Stars: Māori v Indigenous games will feature Premiership and representative stars alongside up-and-coming talent and include the likes of Joseph Manu, James Fisher-Harris, Joseph Tapine and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, up against visiting Indigenous All -Stars including Latrell Mitchell, Josh Addo-Carr, Nicho Hynes and Selwyn Cobbo.

The Harvey Norman Women’s All Stars will feature Māori stars, including Kennedy Cherrington, Zahara Temara and Olivia Kernick, taking on an Indigenous line-up including Shaylee Bent, Caitlan Johnston and Jaime Chapman.

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